In the 21st century, we have witnessed a breed of extraordinary entrepreneurs changing the global business landscape via amazing companies such as Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Tesla, Space X and Alibaba. Behind these companies we find familiar names like Steve Jobs and Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Jack Ma, to mention a few. But when we take an extra look behind these men (no women, alas) we find that they all have a sidekick who compensates for their blind spots. It is a repeated pattern: the CEO gets back-up from a wingman or, almost as often, a wingwoman, who makes him complete in his leadership. Number two has what number one lacks.


Elon Musk is an adventurous entrepreneur waging ‘business blitzkrieg’, constantly getting radical new business ideas and, like a circus artist, working 16 hours a day to keep all balls in the air. At his side is Gwynne Shotwell. She is a skilled engineer and president and COO of SpaceX. She runs the day-to-day business and cleans up the mess that Elon Musk often leaves behind him. Without her, SpaceX would not have survived.

Until recently, Mark Zuckerberg has had Chris Cox at his side. For 13 years, Cox has been in charge of some of Facebook’s most important features, including Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp. The pattern is global. Another visionary, Peter Ma, who heads China’s largest insurance company, Ping An, has a wingwoman too. It’s the 41-year-old Jessica Tan from Singapore, who is mentioned as Ping An’s tech czar and the company’s second in command. She gets most of the credit for Ping An’s formidable growth in recent years.

All the leaders above are flawed – or just human – and their right-hand men and women cover their flaws. But the lieutenants are not people with different views of the future; they are aligned with the founders and share their visions. They are loyal but strong-minded personalities themselves. The wingmen/women respect their boss, who respects and listens to them.

The lesson from all this: we may think that success springs from the man at the top – but it doesn’t. It springs from teaming top-leaders who complement each other.

Nils Elmark is a consulting futurist and the founder of Incepcion, a London-based consultancy that helps organisations develop new and braver dreams.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Scan Magazine Ltd.’

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Receive our monthly newsletter by email

    I accept the Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy